Progarchy Radio Episode 2

Getting far more comfortable with this, though I still have a relatively steep learning curve.  A huge thanks to my somewhat co-host, Veronica Rose Birzer (age 4).

Playlist: Neal Morse Band, Lifesigns, Love Spit Love, Mew

Galahad [transition between these two songs could’ve been smoother!], Frost*, Matt Stevens

Steve Hackett (x2), Kevin McCormick

Enjoy!

 

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The World Didn’t End on December 31, 1989: The Best Music of 1990

A few days ago, I felt absolutely snarky and thought, “why not write down exactly what I think of music from the 1980s.”  In some ways, I feel I have the right to do this in a manner I could never do for any other decade.

After all, I was in seventh grade when a very disturbed fanboy tried to kill the fortieth president, and I was a first-semester senior in college when the Berlin Wall came down.

Yes, I’m very much a man of the 1980s.  Reagan, Rush, Blade Runner. . . how I remember the 1980s.  I came of age in that rather incredible decade.

Life continued after 1989, however, though I wasn’t so sure at the time that it would.

1990 proved to be one of the most interesting years in my personal life when it came to career choices as well as to music.

The chances are quite good that you’re not reading this post because you want to know my career choices or why I made them.  So, I’ll confine myself to the music that I loved that year.

I owe almost all of my good fortune to three very great guys, Ron Strayer (now, a high up with Microsoft), Kevin McCormick (now, justly, a progarchy editor), and Craig Breaden (now, happily, one of progarchy’s editors).  Ron introduced me to what would very soon be called “alternative” but was then being called “college rock” or “modern rock.”  Kevin sent me recommendations, including the rather insistent demand to purchase cds by World Party and The Sundays.  And, finally, Craig introduced me not only to neo-psychedelia but also to psychedelia from its original age.  It was Craig who introduced me to Van Morrison, Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, and Traffic.

I’d loved prog and New Wave all of my 22 years at that point, but my vision was pretty limited to only these genres by the end of 1989.  Well, this isn’t quite accurate.  I also knew classical and jazz fairly well.

With the help of three friends, 1990 opened up huge musical vistas for me in the non-jazz, non-classic genres.

FFKT, 1990.
FFKT, 1990.

Richard Thompson, as a part of French Frith Kaiser Thompson, wrote two of the best songs I’ve ever: “Peppermint Rock” and “The Killing Jar.”  Folk acid psychedelia by guys who had been there before there was a need for a revival.

Her third album.  Folk-pop perfection.
Her third album. Folk-pop perfection.

Suzanne Vega’s third album, DAYS OF OPEN HAND, came out that year, and it’s still one of my favorite albums.  Vega has always produced gorgeous pop and folk in the vein of XTC and others.  If this is pop, it’s very high pop.  Importantly, she never became political like so many of her counterparts.  Rather, she gracefully let the music and lyrics remain art.  Her breathy vocals–weird and yet captivating–only add to her appeal.

Yes, Ian is AWOL, but that doesn't mean this isn't a wonderful album.
Yes, Ian is AWOL, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a wonderful album.

Echo and the Bunnymen’s almost totally forgotten and (when remembered) maligned album, REVERBERATION, is a slice of pop-rock perfection.  Yes, it’s missing Ian McCulloch, but this only lets Will Sergeant soar.  Frankly, their sound hit its height with OCEAN RAIN and fell flat on the follow-up album.  This one, REVERBERATION, reveals an effective rebirth of the band.  The new vocalist, while not possessing the cancerous gravel of McCulloch’s voice, captures the spirit of the lyrics perfectly.  Word play and cliché become clever and, indeed, addictive.  There’s not a dud song on the album, but the employment of psychedelic Indian musicians really works rather perfectly on “Enlighten Me” and on the Doorish “Flaming Red.”  The former  is one of the finest songs the band ever wrote.

California psychedelic shoegaze.
California psychedelic shoegaze.

Mazzy Star.  Hardly anyone remembers this California psychedelic folk and navel-gazing band that emerged from the underground band, Opal.  Too bad–as 1990’s SHE HANGS BRIGHTLY is a thing of disturbing beauty.  Walls of sound, clever lyrics, and earnest production make this album a masterpiece of the neo-psych revival.

Not a single misstep on this basement-made masterpiece.
Not a single misstep on this basement-made masterpiece.

“Is it too late, baby?”  World Party.  What to say about this about that hasn’t been said by a million others?  While Karl Wallinger continues to make interesting music (despite severe health problems), he really threw every thing his soul possessed into GOODBYE JUMBO.  From the crazy Beatle-sque cover to the basement production, this is a gem.  All of the songs work very well, though they rarely reach beyond simple Beatle’s pop.  Taken as a whole, however, this is a prog-pop album.  Not that the individual songs are prog.  They’re not even close.  But, imagine a really, really, really clever Paul McCartney reworking side 2 of Abbey Road.  Then, you’d have GOODBYE JUMBO.  Thank you, world, indeed.

Mischievous and flirtatious pop.
Mischievous and flirtatious pop.

The Sundays.  Ok, so the lead singer is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.  This doesn’t hurt my opinion of the band.  But, really, it’s her voice.  That voice.  How to describe it?  There are no words, really, that could capture it.  She’s playful.  She’s earnest.  She’s flirtatious.  She’s so utterly sincere.  Oh, Harriet.  At one time, you were my Beatrice.  Her husband, David Gavurin, knows exactly how to write music to match his wife’s voice.  What a team.  And, they did the album merely for the fun of it, which makes it even more enjoyable.  If you don’t own this or if you’ve never heard of The Sundays, treat yourself.  You’ll never regret this purchase.  Promise.

It's the drums, the drums, the drums!
It’s the drums, the drums, the drums!

Charlatans UK.  SOME FRIENDLY.  I know next to nothing about this band, but I absolutely dug their sound when Ron introduced them to me.  I’d never quite heard drumming like this (though, The Cure would use the exact same style on their 1991 album, WISH).  The drums, the keyboards, and the bass make this one of the most interesting albums I’ve ever heard it.  While I wouldn’t place it up there with the previous albums I’ve mentioned in terms of outright excellence and staying power, it’s still really good.

house of love
Album title? Not a clue.

House of Love.  Album title?  I’m not sure, as there’s none listed.  Just the band’s name with a butterfly.  Some of the album fails, but when it works, it works in a stellar fashion.  The album is worth owning for the first two tracks alone—”Hannah” and “Shine On”—which really blend into one continuous 10-minute track.  Great build up and perfect execution on these two songs.  From what little I know of the band, they were a bunch of really raucous and idiotic druggies.  Still, some amazing talent there.

heaven or las vegas
The best for last? Yes.

Cocteau Twins,  HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS.  The best for last?  I’m not sure, but, sheesh, do I love this album.  Aside from LOVELESS by My Bloody Valentine, no album reaches as close to shoe-gaze perfection as does HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS.  This album simply never ages.  It’s so weird and yet so continuously captivating.  I assume the artsts behind Cocteau Twins wield some special instrument to speed up or delay time, but I can’t verify this.  Listening to this album is NEVER a casual experience.  It demands full immersion, but you re-emerge not as one drowned but as one baptized.

Progarchy’s Exclusive interview with Alan White of Yes

PROGARCHY EXCLUSIVE

An Interview with Yes’ Alan White (August 3, 2015)

Yes-Alan3

Prog Rock’s quintessential super group, Yes, will be heading out on an American tour again this summer/fall, including the third annual Cruise to the Edge in mid-November.  The most notable change in the line-up, of course, will be the absence of Chris Squire on bass—the first time ever for a Yes tour.

PROGARCHY’s Kevin McCormick recently spoke for with Yes drummer extraordinaire, Alan White, as he prepared for rehearsals for the upcoming tour.

____________________

PROGARCHY Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us.  I think I speak for all of the members of Progarchy.com in offering our condolences after the recent and sudden death of your colleague and friend, Chris Squire.  Obviously he was such an essential part of Yes, founding member and the only person to appear on every Yes album.  Are there plans to honor his memory in some way on the upcoming tour?

Alan White  Well, we’re going to start rehearsals on Monday and we’re going to put our heads together.  We’ve got numerous ideas and we’ve got to work out something to honor Chris.  Just how we’re going to do it, we haven’t really decided.

Chris Squire

PROGARCHY On your website, you wrote a touching note in his memory.  As a musician, I know how unique the musical relationship between the drummer and bassist is and how crucial it is to forming a solid foundation for the band’s sound.  Can you put your finger on what made your collaboration with Chris work so beautifully seamlessly?

AW Well yeah, it’s a question of similarity with each other.  And over the years it became a more brotherly kind of relationship.  Chris was almost part of my family.    We shared a lot of experiences together and we played together for 43 years.  So when you play together with someone for that long you get to know all of the facets of their playing and visa versa, him with myself.  So it made it easy for us to work out some kind of flow in the rhythm section in what Yes was creating.  And it was a special relationship.  It probably never will be the same.  All the same, he did ask that we keep this going, and that I keep it going.  He said just do whatever you can do.  And that’s a good insight, to just keep things very much forward.

PROGARCHY I imagine it must have been difficult to choose to continue with the planned tour.  Was there a deciding factor for you?  

AW That was what Chris wanted. He didn’t want everything to come to a halt just because he was ill.  And while he was ill he had a very positive outlook to the future.  He said, “Well, I’ll go into hospital for four to six weeks, I’ll get rid of this and I’ll be back on tour next spring.”

YES latmac CDVD cover lo

PROGARCHY Well, the fans will certainly miss him and I know the band will too.  Any hints on the set list for the upcoming shows or will that be decided at the rehearsals?

AW Well we’ve put a set list together, but we’ve not rehearsed. We’ve got a few things to try out and see if they’ll work out or not.  That will determine how we approach the set list.  It’s not confirmed yet, but we have a good idea the type of set we want to do, because we’re touring with Toto who are probably going to do a lot of their [popular tracks].  We’re not going to play whole albums like we’ve done in the past few years.  We’re just going to do a great selection of Yes music that people love to hear in concert.

PROGARCHY At first glance, Yes and Toto doesn’t seem like the most obvious double-bill.  How did it come about?

AW Well it sounded pretty good to me.  Maybe … because we know the guys in the band so well.  Steve Porcaro and all the them, I’ve known those guys for years.  They’re all super-nice guys and we get along really well.

PROGARCHY Any chances that you might join forces?  

AW I doubt it.  You know, once you get on the road you have a set list to get into and a time line you keep to.  There’s not really time to work that kind of thing out.  But I’ve played with Steve Porcaro and Billy Sherwood [on the Pink Floyd tribute album, Back Against the Wall].

Yes Tour

PROGARCHY So is it Yes with Toto or…?

AW It’s going to be Yes and Toto.  They’ll be opening for us every night, but it’s really more of a kind of double-billing.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me how much energy you bring to your live performances.  When I saw Yes perform in Austin in 2013, I was impressed with the power in your playing.  For you in particular, it must be extremely physically demanding.  

AW [laughing] Well it all depends on what part of the tour you go to when we’re on the road!  You know, none of us are spring chickens anymore, obviously.  And traveling is really what gets you.  If we didn’t have to travel on a daily basis we’d be in relatively good shape every evening.  But sometimes you’re just really tired when you get to the evening and the last thing you want to do is share music.  But it’s really funny how the body turns around and rises to the occasion.  I guess when you walk out on stage and see all of the people out there, the body just shrugs all that off and gets to it.

PROGARCHY Has your relationship with Yes’ music changed over time?  Are there any songs that you enjoy more now than when they were recorded?

AW Not really.  All of Yes’ music is pretty challenging to play.  Each song has got its own demands on what to play, and how to play, and the way to play it.  So you have to readjust yourself to all of that framework….I have played some of them quite a few thousand times.  So it’s about getting back into the mold and making it work.

PROGARCHY Are you surprised at all to still be playing with Yes after so many years?

AW [laughs] Well, I mean, yeah.  Eventually, when I joined the band I said, “I’ll give you guys three months and see if I enjoy it and you give me three months and see if you enjoy it as a band.”  And I’m still here forty-tree years later, so there must be something working.

PROGARCHY You had commented a while back about the current line-up of Yes is one of the best there’s been and Jon Davison’s working out well.  Are you still feeling that?

AW Jon Davison is an excellent vocalist and all-around musician.  He’s a super nice guy and very easy work to with.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me that Yes is still touring after 40 years.  Is there an element to progressive rock that allows it to reach across decades and generations?

AW I guess the main thing is that everybody strives to make Yes a well-respected, high-standard-of-musicianship kind of band.  When we perform, everybody gives 110 percent. If one part of the band isn’t clicking on all eight cylinders or whatever, you can tell, because it affects everybody else and their whole performance.

When we’re all firing on all cylinders, there’s no other band like it.

PROGARCHY Indeed!  Thank you so much for all of the great music over the years and good luck on the upcoming tour.

AW Alright, man.

Yes-Alan4

The Saving Grace of Neil Peart

In part, a review of Rob Freedman, Rush: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellence (Algora, 2014).

N.B. This post should be approached with caution.  It is at least PG-13, if not NC17.  Not for language, but for personal revelation and content.  Additionally, I’ve written about one or two of these things before, especially about Peart as a big brother.  Please don’t fear thinking—“hey, I’ve read this before.”  But, even the few things I’ve mentioned before are here rewritten.  Final note: for an exploration of Peart’s Stoicism, see Erik Heter’s excellent piece on the subject, here at progarchy.com.

Neil-Peart.jpg-3642
Neil Peart, ca. 1987.

***

As I’ve mentioned before in these pages and elsewhere, few persons, thinkers, or artists have shaped my own view of the world as strongly as has Neil Peart, Canadian drummer, lyricist, writer, and all-around Renaissance man.  I’ve never met him, but I’ve read all of his words and listened to all of his songs.  I’ve been following this man since the spring of 1981 when two fellow inmates of seventh-grade detention explained to me the “awesomeness” of Rush.  My compatriots, Troy and Brad (a different Brad), were right.  Thank God I got caught for doing some thing bad that day.  Whatever I did, my punishment (detention) led to a whole new world for me, one that would more than once save my life.

Having grown up in a family that cherished music of all types, I was already a fan of mixing classical, jazz, and rock.  Rush’s music, as it turned out, did this as well as any band.

While the music captivated me, the lyrics set me free.  I say this with no hyperbole.  I really have no idea how I would have made it out of high school and through the dysfunctional (my step father is serving a 13-year term in prison, if this gives you an idea how nasty the home was) home life without Peart.  I certainly loved my mom and two older brothers, but life, frankly, was hell.

I know that Peart feels very uncomfortable when his fan project themselves on him, or imagine him to be something he is not.  At age 13, I knew absolutely nothing about the man as man, only as drummer and lyricist.  Thus, even in 1981, I absorbed his lyrics, not directly his personality.  Though, I’m sure many of Peart’s words reflect his personality as much as they reflect his intellect.

Rush gave me so much of what I needed in my teen years.  At 13, I had completely rejected the notion of a benevolent God.  He existed, I was fairly sure, but He was a puppet master of the worst sort, a manipulative, Machiavellian tyrant who found glee in abuse and exploitation.  As a kid, I was bright and restless, and I resented all forms of authority, sometimes with violent intent.  Still, as we all do, I needed something greater than myself, a thing to cherish and to hold, a thing to believe in.

I immersed myself in science fiction, fantasy, and rock music.  Not a tv watcher in the least, I would put the headphones on, turns off the lights in my bedroom, lock the door, and immerse myself in the musical stories of Genesis, the Moody Blues, ELO, ELP, Alan Parsons, Yes, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and, especially, Rush.  I could leave the horrors of my house for roughly 44 minutes at a time.

Scratch, scratch, side one.  Zip, turn.  Scratch, scratch, side two.

Rock music was the sanctuary of my world.  But, not just any rock.  ZZ Top and REO Speedwagon might be fun when out on a drive, but I needed a work of art that demanded full immersion.  I needed prog.  I was not only safe in these rhythmic worlds, I was intellectually and spiritually alive, exploring innumerable realms.  Pure, unadulterated escape.  But, escape into a maze of wonders.

The first time I heard the lyrics (at age 13, the spring of 1981) to “Tom Sawyer,” I knew Rush was MY band.  It seemed as though Peart was talking specifically to me, Bradley Joseph Birzer.  That’s right.  To 13-year old Brad in Hutchinson, Kansas.  Peart was 15 years older than I, and he must have gone through the same things I had.  Or so I thought.  Again, I knew him only through his lyrics.  But, did I ever cherish those lyrics.  I lingered over each word, contemplated not just the ideas, but the very structures of lyrics as a whole.

Though his mind is not for rent

Don’t put him down as arrogant

His reserve a quiet defense

Riding out the day’s events

No, his mind is not for rent to any God or Government

Always hopeful, yet discontent [corrected from my original typos]

He knows changes aren’t permanent, but change is

Though I’ve never given any aspect of my life to the Government (nor do I have plans to do so), I long ago surrendered much of myself to the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity and to His Mother.  While I’m no modern Tom Sawyer at age 47, I still find the above lyrics rather comforting.  And, I do so in a way that is far beyond mere nostalgia.

Armed with Peart’s words and convictions, I could convince myself to walk to Liberty Junior High and, more importantly, to traverse its halls without thinking myself the most objectified piece of meat in the history of the world.  Maybe, just maybe, I could transcend, sidestep, or walk directly through what was happening back at home.  I could still walk with dignity through the groves of the academy, though my step father had done everything short of killing me back while in our house.

[N.B. This is the PG13 part of the essay]  And, given all that was going on with my step father, the thought of killing myself crossed my mind many, many times in junior high and high school.  I had become rather obsessed with the notion, and the idea of a righteous suicide, an escape from on purposeless life hanged tenebrous across my soul.  After all, if I only existed to be exploited, to be a means to end, what purpose did life have.

What stopped me from ending it all?  I’m still not sure, though such desires seemed to fade away rather quickly when I escaped our house on Virginia Court in Kansas and began college in northern Indiana.  Not surprisingly, my first real friendship in college—one I cherish and hold to this day—came from a mutual interest in all things Rush.  In fact, if anything, my friend (who also writes for this site) was an even bigger Rush fan than myself!  I’d never met such a person.

Regardless, from age 13 to 18, I can say with absolute certainty that some good people, some good books, and some good music saved my life, more than once.  Neil Peart’s words of integrity and individualism and intellectual curiosity stood at the front and center of that hope.

Perhaps even more importantly to me than Moving Pictures (“Tom Sawyer,” quoted above) were Peart’s lyrics for the next Rush album, Signals.  On the opening track, a song about resisting conformity, Peart wrote:

Growing up, it all seemed so one-sided

Opinions all provided, the future predecided

Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone

No where is the dreamer or misfit so alone

There are those who sell their dreams for small desires

And lose their race to rats

Even at 14, I knew I would not be one who sold my dreams for small desires.  I wanted to be a writer—in whatever field I found myself—and I would do what it took to make it through the horrible home years to see my books on the shelves of a libraries and a bookstores.  Resist and renew.  Renew and resist.  Again, such allowed me to escape the abyss of self annihilation.

Indeed, outside of family members (though, in my imagination, I often think of Peart as one of my older brothers—you know; he was the brilliant one with the goofy but cool friends, the guys who did their own thing regardless of what anyone thought).  From any objective standpoint, as I look back over almost five decades of life, I can claim that Peart would rank with St. Augustine, St. Francis, John Adams, T.S. Eliot, Willa Cather, Ray Bradbury, Russell Kirk, and J.R.R. Tolkien as those I would like to claim as having saved me and shaped me.  If I actually live up to the example of any of these folks, however, is a different question . . .

I also like to say that Peart would have been a great big brother not just because he was his own person, but, most importantly, because he introduced me as well as an entire generation of North Americans (mostly males) to the ideas of Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Cicero, Seneca, Petrarch, Erasmus, Voltaire, Adam Smith, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, T.S. Eliot, J.R.R. Tolkien, and others.

During my junior year of high school, I wrote an essay on the meaning of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, based on Peart’s interpretation.  I earned some form of an A.  In one of my core humanities courses, while at the University of Notre Dame, I wrote my major sophomore humanities term paper about the cultural criticisms of Neil Peart as found in his lyrics to the 1984 album, Grace Under Pressure.  Again, I received an A.

I’m not alone in this love of Rush.  The band is, of course, one of the highest selling rock acts of all time, and they are just now crossing the line into their fortieth anniversary.  Arguably, no other band has had as loyal a following as had Rush.  Thousands and thousands of men (and some women) faithfully attend sold-out concerts throughout North and South America to this day.  This is especially true of North American men, ages 35 to 65.  Now, as is obvious at concerts, an entirely new generation of Rush fans is emerging, the children of the original set.

Telling, critics have almost always despised Rush, seeing them as having betrayed the blues-based tradition of much of rock, exchanging it for a European (and directly African rather than African-American) tradition of long form, complexity, and bizarrely shifting time signatures.  Such a direction and style became unbearable for the nasty writers of the largest music magazines.  They have felt and expressed almost nothing but disdain for such an “intellectually-pretentious band,” especially a band that has openly challenged the conformist ideologues of the Left while embracing art and excellence in all of its forms.  Elitist rags such as the horrid Rolling Stone and equally horrid NME have time and time again dismissed Rush as nothing but smug middle-class rightists.

That so many have hated them so powerfully has only added to my attraction to the band, especially those who came of age in 1980s, despising the conformist hippies who wanted to mould my generation in their deformed image.  Rolling Stone and NME spoke for the oppressive leftist elite, and many of my generation happily made rude gestures toward their offices and their offal.  I had no love of the ideologues of the right, either.  But, they weren’t controlling the schools in the 1980s.  Their leftist idiotic counterparts were in charge.  They had no desire for excellence.  They demanded conformity and mediocrity.

[The best visual representation of this widespread if ultimately ineffective student revolt in the 1980s can be found in “The Breakfast Club” by John Hughes (RIP).]

To make it even more real for me, the parents of Geddy Lee, the lead singer and bassist of Rush, had survived the Polish holocaust camps, and the parents of Alex Lifeson, the lead guitarist of the band, had escaped from the Yugoslavian gulag.  Peart came from a Canadian farming community, his father an entrepreneur.  No prima donnas were these men.  They understood suffering, yet they chose to rise above it.  And, of course, this makes the British music press even more reprehensible for labeling the members of Rush as rightest or fascist.  Again, I offer the most dignified description for Rolling Stone and NME possible: “ideological fools and tools.”

At age 13, I stared and stared at this image.  I loved the look of each of the guys.  They couldn't be more interesting to me.
At age 13, I stared and stared at this image. I loved the look of each of the guys. They couldn’t be more interesting to me.

Enter Rob Freedman

In his outstanding 2014 book, Rush: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness (Algora Press), author, philosopher, and media specialist Rob Freedman has attempted to explain not just Peart’s popularity among his multitude of fans—some of the most dedicated in the music world—but also the Canuck drummer’s actual set of ideas and explored beliefs in his books and lyrics.  Not surprisingly, Freedman finds the Canadian a man deeply rooted in the western tradition, specifically in the traditions of western humanism and individualism.

As Freedman notes, one can find three themes in all of Peart’s lyrics: individualism; classical liberalism; and humanism.  It’s worth observing that Freedman has formal training in academic philosophy, and this shows in his penetrating discussion of the music as well as the words of Rush.

Cover of Rob Freedman, Rush: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellence (2014).  A must own.
Cover of Rob Freedman, Rush: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellence (2014). A must own.

Relying on interviews with the band, the music journalism (much of it bogus and elitist idiocy) of the last forty years, and actually serious works of Rush criticism, such as that done admirably by Steve Horwitz in Rush and Philosophy (Open Court, 2011), Freedman offers not so much a biography of the band, but rather a map of their intellectual influences and expressions.  Freedman possesses a great wit in his writing, and the book—relatively short at 164 pages—flows and flows, time standing still until the reader reaches the end.  For all intents and purposes, Freedman’s book serves as an intellectual thriller, a page turner.

As a lover of Rush, I have a few (very few) quibbles with Freedman’s take.  Mostly, from my not so humble perspective, Freedman gives way too much space to such charlatans as Barry Miles of the English New Music Express who claimed Rush promoted neo-fascism in the late 1970s.  Freedman, while disagreeing with Miles, bends over backwards defending Miles’s point of view, as it did carry immense weight in the 1970s and wounded the band deeply.  From my perspective, there is no excuse for Miles.  He maliciously manipulated and twisted the words of Peart—using his lyrics and a personal interview—which were as deeply anti-fascistic as one could possibly imagine (paeans to creativity and individualism) and caused unnecessary damage to the reputation of three men, two of whom who had parents who had survived the horrors of the twentieth-century ideologues, as noted above.  Miles’s take on Rush is simply inexcusable and no amount of justification explains his wickedness and cthluthic insensibilities toward three great artists.  Dante best understood where such “men” spent eternity.

Author Rob Freedman.
Author Rob Freedman.

I also believe that Freedman underplays the role of Stoicism in his book.  The venerable philosophy barely receives a mention.  Yet, in almost every way, Peart is a full-blown Stoic.  In his own life as well as his own actions, Peart has sought nothing but excellence as conformable to the eternal laws of nature.  This is the Stoicism of the pagans, admittedly, and not of the Jews or Christians, but it is Stoicism nonetheless.  Freedman rightly notes that Plato and, especially, Aristotle influenced Peart.  But, so did Zeno, Virgil, Cicero, and Seneca.  This comes across best in Peart’s lyrics for “Natural Science” (early Rush), “Prime Mover” (middle Rush), and in “The Way the Wind Blows” (recent Rush).  In each of these songs, Peart presents a view of the world with resignation, recognizing that whatever his flaws, man perseveres.  Erik Heter and I have each attempted to explore this aspect of Peart’s writings at progarchy.  Heter has been quite successful at it.

As the risk of sounding cocky, I offer what I hope is high praise for Freedman.  I wish I’d written this book.

Peart as Real Man

Neil-Peart later
Neil Peart, ca. 2008.

In the late 1990s, Peart experienced immense tragedy.  A horrible set of events ended the life of his daughter and, quickly after, his wife.  Devastated, Peart got on his motorcycle (he’s an avid cyclist and motorcyclist) and rode throughout the entirety of North America for a year.  It was his year in the desert, so to speak.

Then, in 2002, Rush re-emerged and released its rockingly powerful album, Vapor Trails.  The men were the same men (kind of), but the band was not the same band.  This twenty-first century Rush, for all intents and purposes, is Rush 2.0.  This is a much more mature as well as a much more righteously angry and yet also playful Rush.  This is a Rush that has nothing to prove except to themselves.  The last albums—Vapor Trails (2002); Snakes and Arrows (2007); and Clockwork Angels (2012)—have not only been among the best in the huge Rush catalogue, but they are some of the best albums made in the last sixty years.  They soar with confidence, and they promote what Rush has always done best: excellence, art, creativity, distrust of authority, and dignity of the human person.

Peart is not quite the hard-core libertarian of his youth.  In his most recent book, Far and Near, he explains,

The great Western writer Edward Abbey’s suggestion was to catch them [illegal immigrants], give them guns and ammunition, and send them back to fix the things that made them leave.  But Edward Abbey was a conservative pragmatist, and I am a bleeding-heart libertarian==who also happens to be fond of Latin Americans.  The ‘libertarian’ in me thinks people should be able to go where they want to go, and the ‘bleeding heart’ doesn’t want them to suffer needlessly” [Far and Near, 58]

If he has lost any of his former political fervor, he’s lost none of his zest for life and for art.  “My first principle of art is ‘Art is the telling of stories.’  What might be called the First Amendment is ‘Art must transcend its subject’.” [Far and Near, 88]

These twenty-first century albums speak to me at age 47 as much as the early albums spoke to me at age 13.  I’ve grown up, and so has Rush.  Interestingly, this doesn’t make their early albums seem childish, only less wise.

After my wife and I lost our own daughter, Cecilia Rose, I wrote a long letter to Neil Peart, telling him how much the events of his life—no matter how tragic—had shaped my own response to life.  I included a copy of my biography of J.R.R. Tolkien.  Mr. Peart sent me back an autographed postcard as thanks.

I framed it, and it will be, until the end of my days, one of my greatest possessions.

After all, Neil Peart has not just told me about the good life, creativity, and integrity, he has shown me through his successes and his tragedies—and thousands and thousands of others—that each life holds a purpose beyond our own limited understandings.  As with all things, Peart takes what life has given and explodes it to the level of revelation.

Kevin McCormick discusses “In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice”

kevin_rachel_mccormick

The following interview with guitarist and composer Kevin McCormick was originally posted on Catholic World Report last week, but I am posting here as Kevin is a fellow Progarchist, he is a fabulous musician, and his new album, with his daughter Rachel, is a gorgeous album of traditional and sacred Christmas music. Here goes!

Kevin McCormick (www.kevin-mccormick.com) is a classical guitarist, composer, and teacher based in Texas who has released several albums over the past twenty years. His new album, In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice, featuring the vocals of his teenage daughter, Rachel, released today, on the Feast of St. Cecilia. It is a collection of fourteen songs for Advent and Christmas, including “In Dulci Jubilo”, “Ave Maria”, and “Panis Angelicus”. He recently responded to some questions I send to him about his new album.

CWR: For those who aren’t familiar with your work, what is your musical background: where did you study, what have you recorded, and what do you do as a full-time musician? What about your daughter, Rachel?

McCormick: My mother was a music teacher and choral director and so music was a large piece of the fabric of our family. My older brother played piano and my younger brother played drums. I’ve played guitar for nearly as far back as I can remember. I started when I was seven and studied privately for many years. And yes, I’m not ashamed to say we were a band. We spent most of our time writing our own music. By high school though we were playing cover tunes at clubs and other gigs and generally enjoying it all. I continued with a band at Notre Dame, but while there I also rediscovered classical guitar and classical music in general. During a year abroad in Rome I studied at a guitar conservatory with a student of Andres Segovia. I realized how much I loved the sound and repertoire of the instrument and so I pursued it on and off for the next decade.

A stint in Japan allowed more of the rock thing and club playing but also the study of Japanese music. Along the way I began to take composition more seriously. When my wife and I returned to the States I studied guitar and composition at Indiana University’s School of Music. Eventually we wound up in central Texas where I was trading time between writing serious post-rock song cycles, writing for my own ensemble in Austin (which once again included my brother on drums), and composing classically. The song cycles became my first two recordings [With The Coming of Evening and Squall]. In fact, they are part of a tryptic that awaits completion. Stylistically they spring from many styles including jazz, east asian, film music. I was heavily influenced by the work of Mark Hollis during that time with my own foundation as a classical player was woven in as well.

But you never know what God has in store. I ended up establishing a teaching studio in our small Texas town and playing classical gigs in the area. That lead to my three solo guitar recordings: Solo Guitar (an introduction to classical guitar), Americas (music of Latin America and some original compositions), and Songs of the Martin (collection of songs performed on a 1846 Martin Guitar). My daughter Rachel definitely inherited a love for music. She has been singing ever since she could make sound. She has cantored at church since she was ten and has sung in stage musicals at our local theater. She has sung with our church choir and her school choir for nearly ten years. She has done some private study, but really she just seems to have been blessed with the voice and the spirit for singing. Some of my fondest memories of her singing have nothing to do with a stage. She sings all the time.

CWR: Why did you decide to produce a Christmas album? What do you hope people will hear and experience when listening to the album?  Continue reading “Kevin McCormick discusses “In Dulci Jubilo: Songs of Christmas for Guitar and Voice””

Have Yourself a Merry Christmas

Well, it seems a little early to talk about Christmas.  But, not about Christmas music!  As we get close to Advent (begins this Sunday) and prepare for Christmas and the holiday season, you have a lot of wonderful offerings from the music community.  Indeed, there almost seems to be a revival of the Christmas song.  Lots and lots to choose from.

reasoning xmas

If you want a great two-track EP, get The Reasoning’s “It’s Christmas (Sing it Loud),” out today, and available from amazon.com and iTunes.  Rachel Cohen has the voice of an angel, of course, and it shows in every note she sings with one of the greatest prog/rock outfits around today.  Thank you, Matt Cohen, master of many, many things.  For those of you who shy away from prog, no worries.  This is just a wonderfully joyous song.  I think it could’ve easily been the finale to HOME ALONE.

proggychristmas-new2-2

Neal Morse, never unwilling to profess his own faith (in Christianity and in prog!) has two CDs out you might like.  The first, out last year at this time and still available, is a PROGGY CHRISTMAS–featuring just about everyone you could imagine.  As I wrote last year:

All of the members of Transatlantic (Portnoy, Trewavas, and Stolt), Steve Hackett, Steve Morse, and Randy George.  Portnoy is even “The Little Drummer Boy”!  Jerry Guidroz does his usual extraordinary mixing and engineering.

Also available–as a member of the Neal Morse Inner Circle–“Christmas 2013.”  These songs date back almost 20 years.  Very delicate as well as energetic.

leah christmas

Our own progarchist, lovely Leah, “metal maid,” has a gorgeous EP out, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”  Three tracks introduce the listener to our favorite Canuck rocker (that is, below the age of 60.  Sorry Geddy, Alex, and Neil) and the spirit of a metal Christmas.

kevinmccormickandrachelm

Finally, out just since last Friday, is another progarchist album, In Dulci Jubilo.  This one comes from classical and progressive guitarist Kevin McCormick and his oldest daughter, Rachel.  My best description of this album is “immaculate.”  In Dulci Jubilo is 14 tracks long at 46 minutes.  A much more detailed review forthcoming.